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Jim Kenney, then mayor-elect, at a Philadelphia neighborhoods town hall. Credit: Facebook Jim Kenney, then mayor-elect, at a Philadelphia neighborhoods town hall. Credit: Facebook

Jim Kenney, then mayor-elect, at a Philadelphia neighborhoods town hall. Credit: Facebook

By Cassie Owens March 8, 2016

Jim Kenney and stop and frisk: Did the rookie Philly mayor change his position?

Did Philadelphia Mayor Jim Kenney really promise to bring an end to stop-and-frisk?

Based on a recent interview with Al Dia’s editorial board, not totally. "I never said stop-and-frisk was going to end entirely," Kenney told Al Dia staffers last week. "What we are going to stop is the random stopping of people, Latinos and African Americans, on the street and the cop asking, 'What are you doing here?' "

Kenney provided them with the following explanation: "If you get held up on the street by a guy with a Flyers hat, and you call in 911 and you say, 'A guy with a Flyers hat just held me up at gun point.' And three minutes later the police see a guy in the neighborhood with a Flyers hat, he is going to get stopped," he said, "And since you told them he has a gun, they are going to frisk him. So the issue for us is those frisks are ... constitutional and legitimate based on a call on 911 from a citizen."

It’s worth noting that Kenney is making a legal distinction here. If we’re talking about stop-and-frisk as a policy that disproportionately targets black and Hispanic men with little basis for the stops, then that’s one thing. But, "a frisk that is based on reasonable suspicion that the person has a weapon is constitutional," Mary Catherine Roper, deputy legal director of the ACLU of Pennsylvania, wrote in an email. She cautioned that a reasonable search "might a (call for) more than a Flyers hat on game day," but added, "Mayor Kenney is certainly describing a process that is permitted under the law."

Police Commissioner Richard Ross told the Philadelphia Inquirer in February that eliminating stop-and-frisk isn’t altogether possible. "At the risk of sounding flip, there's no city that has the authority to end stop-and-frisk," said Ross. "The best you could do as a city is decide you want to have a precipitous drop - the only danger in that is, it's kind of a reverse quota, it suggests you had to have (a quota) in the first place."

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In his campaign materials, Team Kenney did note that he would "not permit the continued prevalence of impermissible stops-and-frisks," and that he would create a new reasonable suspicion training program so that police would better grasp the difference.

Kenney didn’t always delineate these practices with care on the campaign trail, however. Kenney stated he would straight-up end stop-and-frisk, no ifs, no caveats, and he did so repeatedly. ""If (I'm) mayor, stop-and-frisk will end in Philadelphia, no question," Kenney told Newsworks last April. "(I) would like to work with Commissioner Ramsey as well as the FOP to find a responsible way to bring that practice to an end."

After his primary win, he doubled down, "If you have a program that divides the community from the police and it doesn’t result in anything positive going forward," Kenney told press, as reported by CBS Local. "It should be stopped … I’m going to tell (then-Commissioner Ramsey) that in the end, it doesn’t make police officers safer, it doesn’t make citizens safer."

Several outlets, including Billy Penn, have noted the discrepancy between popular campaign statements and his actual goals as mayor. At Ross’ January swearing-in, Kenney summed up the knottiness of the stop-and-frisk himself, describing it as "unfortunate terminology used as a crime fighting tool."

Our ruling

The legal considerations for quelling a policy like stop-and-frisk weren’t lost on Kenney during the campaign. His written campaign materials appear consistent with his stance now. Multiple statements given to reporters along the trail, though, spoke to ceasing the practice absolutely, without the stipulations that Kenney had clarified elsewhere. We rule this claim a Half Flip.


Our Sources

Tweet, Al Día Twitter account, Mar. 3, 2016, 4:23 pm

Quote Transcript, Email, Sabrina Vourvoulias, executive editor, Al Día, Mar. 4, 2016

Email, Mary Catherine Roper, deputy legal director, ACLU of Pennsylvania, Mar. 4, 2016

Policy Paper, "Making Philadelphians Feel Safe and Respected in Every Neighborhood," Jim Kenney for Mayor, April 2015

News article, "Kenney taking a more nuanced stand on ending stop and frisk," Julia Terruso, The Philadelphia Inquirer, Feb. 19, 2016

News article, "Abraham, Kenney, Williams vow to end 'stop and frisk,' support Ramsey," Bobby Allyn, NewsWorks, Apr. 8, 2015

News article, "The Future of Stop and Frisk in Philadelphia Is in Question," Walt Hunter, CBSLocal, May 20, 2015

News article, "Why a new report doesn’t advise Mayor Kenney to just end stop and frisk," Anna Orso, Billy Penn, Feb. 17, 2016

News article, "Kenney Discusses Ending Controversial ‘Stop And Risk’ Police Policy," Steve Tawa, CBSLocal, Jan. 6, 2016

Book chapter, "Investigative Detentions," The Law on Arrest, Search and Seizure in Pennsylvania, David Rudovsky, Pennsylvania Bar Institute, edition unknown

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Jim Kenney and stop and frisk: Did the rookie Philly mayor change his position?

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